Central Londoners sometimes have to be tempted to the outer environs, but they might feel it’s worth it for the culinary delight of Brouge. It’s placed quite skillfully on the high street with all the shops and other restaurants but you’d be forgiven for walking past it as it hides beneath a dentist’s surgery. Its spotlights and white washed walls are deeply intriguing, making you want to inspect this dungeon-like establishment more closely.
As you walk down the stairs into the cavernous basement restaurant, you really don’t know what to expect. However, once you pop your head inside, all your worries float away. The front part of Brouge is more of a bar area and you feel like you’re in a tavern because of the low ceilings and dark mood. There are soft brown leather booths, bar stools and a large picture of the symbol of the beer Delerium Tremens, which is a large pink elephant. Past the bar, the venue opens up into a spacious and bright restaurant area. The walls are decorated with display cases of the beer bottles on offer – beers with interesting logos like golden dragons for Gulden Drak, which is a lethal 10.5%, a favourite amongst the staff. The exposed white-painted brickwork gives it a certain charm as do the intimate polished wooden tables and art deco pictures of London.
The drinks menu is large, extensive and educational. There’s a brief explanation of the beers and what percentage they are – useful as not everyone is familiar with the nuances of Belgian beer. It also recommends food to be paired with the different beers. Draught beers come in half pint measures or 1 litre carafes, the bottled beers vary in size but are typically 330ml. If you’re a little stumped as to what to choose for your first tipple, they do have a beer tasting selection: eight shots of different beers going from light to dark. Your server will give you a guided tour as you sip each one telling you what it is and its similarities to other brands you may know. Failing that, your server will help you out as best they can with your decision – they’re very knowledgeable about the beers and the food.
The food menu is easier to digest. While you’re mulling over what to eat, you can have the Belgian canapés (£3) consisting of different delicious cheeses, smoked sausage and lashings of wholegrain and French mustard: it’s a great teamed with a bruin beer (that’s a dark ale-like beer to you and me). You could begin your meal with one of the light starters such as the salmon terrine (£6.25) – a triangular wedge of smooth and creamy terrine with mayo prawns delicately placed on top accompanied by dense Belgian bread. It’s a very light, refreshing and enjoyable dish. Or if you like your meat, then the Honey Spiced Lambiek Beer Ribs (£5.95) could hit the spot. They are quite sweet, very sticky and go well with Maredsous Bruin beer (£4.35 a bottle).
In a Belgian restaurant you do expect one item to be on the menu and that’s mussels. You have a choice of traditional, lemongrass and basil and Mediterranean red pepper and tomato sauce mussels, all at £11.95 and all served with frites and bread. The Mediterranean mussel sauce is rich and hearty, like a watered down version of minestrone soup. The size of the mussels is impressive – they are absolutely enormous, making them mightily tasty. The only let down with this dish is that the frites, which are served in a cute tin bucket, aren’t the traditional frites – they are more like thick chips, which does make the dish a bit of a disappointment. Other recommended dishes are Gigot a La Cuillère, a braised lamb shank served with a fruit beer, redcurrant, rosemary & garlic jus (£14.95) and the rib eye steak (£14.95).
If you’re not completely stuffed by the end of the meal then squeezing in a traditional Belgian waffle with maple syrup and ice-cream (£4.95) is a good way to finish. It’s a soft sugary waffle with a crispy coating, with the right amount of maple syrup drizzled on top. It’s a little slice of heaven on a plate.
Brouge is a place to go if you want a quite unique dining experience in chilled out yet fun surroundings. Just be careful with the 11% beers or you might be falling up the stairs as you try to leave.